What happened to Joss Whedon yesterday, and why it’s a super bad thing for everyone.
Spoilers for Age of Ultron and such.
On the one hand:
I thoroughly enjoyed The Avengers: Age of Ultron, having seen it only once so far. In particular, I liked the character developments they gave to Hawkeye, The Hulk, and Black Widow, and though the film was tonally very different from the first film, that was not nearly as bad a thing as I thought it would be. Sure, there was an absence of Whedon-ish dialogue with rare exceptions (”Well… I was born yesterday”), but Whedon-ish dialogue doesn’t belong everywhere, and this film was probably a good example of where not to put it.
And the female characters were not only well-written, they were varied. It would have been cheap and easy to make all the major female characters some variation on Black Widow, but they weren’t. For example, Laura’s character was so normal under the circumstances (welcome 5 extra superheroes into her house like it’s no big deal, put them up for the night, smuggle Nick Fury into her shed for a pep talk, send everyone off with well-wishes the next morning) that it almost seems miraculous.
And I found nothing wrong with the aspects of Black Widow’s character which leaned towards what you might call traditional femininity, i.e. motherhood.
I don’t believe Joss Whedon deserved any of the hate that he got because I genuinely don’t believe there was anything to complain about in this instance, whether you generally like Joss Whedon or not.
On the other hand:
I don’t want this to sound like victim-blaming, but it probably will anyway, so here goes.
This was always going to happen. Today, next month, next year, some time in the future, the rabid feminists of Twitter were going to turn on Joss Whedon.
And I’m not saying that he should necessarily have foreseen it, but he most definitely backed the wrong horse. That is, he backed the horse which only cared about his support because he was, knowingly or otherwise, regurgitating rhetoric that the mob had already heard and evaluated to be absolute truth.
The moment that Joss Whedon did something to challenge that rhetoric (however unknowingly and unintentionally), that is, giving Black Widow a motherhood angle and a love interest in the form of Banner, the people turned on him.
And the really scary thing is, they turned on him as though they had always meant to do it. Reading through the wild mud-slinging being spouted by all these random Twitter people, it becomes clear that they never actually liked him. There is no conflict. There is no “Ooh, I want to like Whedon, but this is beyond the pale”. There’s no “Gosh, Whedon’s usually so good at this sort of thing, what happened?” There’s just “Aha! Whedon’s a misogynist, racist, transphobe! I knew it! I always knew it!”
There is no substitute for a network of friends, or a group of fans, that you know you can trust. And I doubt Whedon can trust either of his to do right by him.
What does this mean?
If this controversy blows up hard enough, it may actually have a marked negative effect on female characters in cinema.
Black Widow was a well-rounded, well-written, entertaining female character.
For the crime of writing her as such, Joss Whedon was harassed to the extent that he deleted his Twitter account.
This is what I call the Wonder Woman paradox in action: The reason that she may never get a movie is because nobody wants to write the script.
The people who demand the existence of a Wonder Woman movie have also, inadvertently, set the bar way too high. I was telling judging-arguments-by-their-merit many months ago, any slight deviations in Wonder Woman’s character or writing that the louder sections of her audience don’t like are going to be lambasted, and held up as proof that Hollywood can’t write a good woman, or they just don’t care, or whatever fits their preordained narrative. Ironically, for all that they want a Wonder Woman movie, they will end up hating her character. And nobody wants to write that script, because if they screw up (and they will screw up) they will never hear the end of it.
How right I turned out to be. But it wasn’t Wonder Woman, it was Black Widow. Which is almost as bad.
See, if this does blow up hard enough, then scriptwriters in Hollywood might actually start shying away from writing decent female characters, or any female characters at all. “Oh no” they might say, “That’s far too big a risk. Remember what happened to Joss Whedon? We thought he was good at writing female characters, but even Black Widow wasn’t good enough for the audience.”
Yes, I am saying that the people who are pushing for better representation for female characters in cinema, are in fact making it harder to have better representation for female characters in cinema.
Another glorious victory for social justice.